Budget 2017 was released almost a month ago and received a wide range of commentary analyzing its strengths and weaknesses. To highlight the impact of Budget 2017 on the water industry, Water Canada tapped experts from Assembly of First Nations, BC Water and Waste Association, and WaterTAP to comment on the budget.
Budget 2017 reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to finding solutions. In addition to funding allocated in Budget 2016, this year’s budget promised an additional $4 billion dollars starting in 2018-2019 to build and improve infrastructure like housing, water treatment systems, health facilities, and other similar projects — specifically $275 million for two years starting in 2018–19. The Budget highlighted the Government’s commitment to First Nations communities with drinking water advisories, citing 201 projects underway that will lead to the elimination of remaining long-term advisories by March 2021.
It will be necessary to monitor progress on achieving long-term sustainable solutions for access First Nations access to safe drinking water and to hold the Government accountable to promises made. This includes the commitment in Budget 2017 to determine funding allocations in partnership with Indigenous peoples. Critical points include improving First Nations involvement in the decision-making process, funding for continued operation and maintenance of treatment plants, and capacity building and skills training. These are all part of a holistic First Nations-centered approach aimed at community-based solutions.
WaterTAP is encouraged that the federal government is dedicating resources to scaling high-potential, innovative clean technology businesses. Budget 2017 outlines new financing tools through BDC and EDC, and, in particular, the Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative as well as renewed funding for the Sustainable Development Technology Canada SD Tech Fund is welcome news.
We’re also glad to see a commitment to further investment in skills and innovation to benefit green growth. We know of many Ontario-based companies that will take advantage of new ways to gain access to global talent, and we’re keen to see how the country can benefit from the new Invest in Canada Hub and the Canada Free Trade Agreement. Additionally, a Global Affairs Canada international clean technology strategy could have the potential to provide a helpful boost for Canada’s water tech companies as they address the challenges and opportunities of driving global sales.
We are also encouraged by the recognition of the value of developing superclusters that pull stakeholders together to engage in innovation, technology, and market development in strategic sectors. Specific cleantech sub-sectors, such as water and energy, are key enablers across the entire Canadian economy and, as such, should be at the nexus of these clusters.
The Innovation and Skills Plan proposes an increase to Labour Market Transfer Agreements, which could provide additional opportunities for water sector workers to upgrade their skills. In 2015, we received funding through the Canada-British Columbia Labour Market Development Agreement to develop a comprehensive profile of the workforce responsible for water and wastewater operations in BC. It offers basic labour market information, such as labour supply and demand projections to 2025 and current workforce demographics. It also outlines a number of key challenges facing the competence and sustainability of the workforce. The report found that gaps in knowledge, skills, and abilities were challenges impacting the workforce, which increased funding would greatly help to address.
Another area of interest with potential impact on the BC-Yukon water and wastewater industry is the proposed support for innovators through a review of government-led programs, creation of superclusters, and launching a Smart Cities Challenge. New and innovative technologies can be difficult to implement in water and wastewater systems, but as new infrastructure projects are approved and older infrastructure is in need of replacement, government support could be a key factor in more systems adopting innovative technology.